Ahhh, professor Nutt at work again, not sure how governments can approve of this though. Surely there are many safer alternatives to alcohol already out there that provide pleasure to many.....but they are not approved of by our lords and masters. Anyway, this from The Sunday Times: Booze control A new drug with all the positive effects of alcohol, but none of the negatives? It sounds too good to be true but, as Anita Chaudhuri reports, it coud be just around the corner On a balmy summer evening, what could be more satisfying than a bottle of chilled rosé, a jug of Pimm’s or a pint of lager (preferably not all drunk in the same session)? Alas, there are downsides, as anyone who woke up fuzzy-headed and full of self-recrimination this morning will be only too ready to confirm. Figures released last month by the Office for National Statistics revealed a sharp increase in the number of alcohol-related deaths in the UK, with 8,380 deaths reported in 2004, compared to 4,144 in 1991. The majority of these were due to chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, but accidental alcohol poisoning, heart attacks and mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol misuse were also responsible. There is some good news on the horizon, however. Scientists are now competing to come up with the holy grail for drinkers: a cocktail that contains all the feelgood factors of alcohol with none of the mental and physical side effects — no hangovers, no cat fights and no conversations one might regret the next day. At the forefront of the British research is David Nutt, professor of psychopharmacology at Bristol University. While many healthcare professionals advocate moderate drinking or abstinence to minimise the negative effects of alcohol, Nutt has a more pragmatic approach: “We like to go for a drink. Our culture embraces alcohol as a social event. People have learnt to associate drinking with pleasure.” Nutt has been researching ways of creating a drink containing a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, which would have all the euphoric effects of wine or beer, but none of the downsides for your liver, heart or brain. Benzodiazepines are most commonly associated with the popular compound Valium, but Nutt has been working with new formulations of the drug, known as partial agonists, that have a gentler impact on the body and brain. “What we’re aiming for is to create an alcohol-like effect without negative effects such as toxicity, hangover or loss of function. The drink wouldn’t contain any alcohol,” says Nutt. He states that benzodiazepines have been in use for more than 40 years, and that there has been little or no evidence of organ damage. And there is another plus. “Alcohol has been used for more than 4,000 years, and is just as toxic as it ever was,” says Nutt. “The effects of the drugs I’m talking about can be instantly reversed by taking flumazenil, a known antidote. Say you started getting out of control, or were unfit to drive, you could just swallow a pill and the effects would be undone.” To date, no drug company has put its money behind further research. “Drug firms view what I am proposing as recreational, rather than offering a cure for an illness,” says Nutt. Apart from funding, there is another problem: it would be necessary to come up with a drink that tastes just like an alcoholic one. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, as anyone who has ever attempted a binge on non-alcoholic beer will testify. Researchers are also investigating ways to make alcohol itself a safer option. Scientists believe that alcohol makes us feel good because it fires up receptors in the brain for the neurotransmitter known as GABA. According to Nutt, different GABA receptors are associated with specific side effects of alcohol, such as memory loss, lack of co-ordination, euphoria and compulsion. Nutt believes that it will, in the future, be possible to create drugs that selectively block alcohol’s undesirable effects while leaving the desirable ones alone. “We’ve been working with a group of students to show how blocking GABA receptors can improve memory in people who’ve been drinking,” he says. “What we have found is that it is possible to turn off the ‘memory-loss’ receptors in the hippocampus while drinking. In this way, you could target a drug at those receptors that influence aggression, nausea and clumsiness.” Scientists at the University of Maryland are conducting similar research, working on blocking out clumsiness in the inebriated and improving mental function. Not everyone is convinced by this proposed new wave of drinks. Professor Theodora Duka, an experimental psychologist at the University of Sussex, is involved in the study of binge drinking. “The problem is,” she says, “we don’t know for sure what really causes the compulsion to drink excessively. All we know is that the subcortical reward centres in the brain are somehow satisfied when drinking alcohol.” One study found that those who drank large amounts once or twice a week performed worse in mental tasks such as memory tests and pattern recognition. However, putting memory drugs in drinks may not be the answer. “We don’t know whether the changes in this part of the brain were caused by alcohol,” says Duka. “All we know is that they are present in binge drinkers. But it might be the case that they had impaired brain function to begin with, and that is what caused them to drink, not that drinking caused their brain to work less effectively.” Meanwhile, Nutt suggests that the government needs to provide official backing for research into safer alternatives to alcohol before anything will change. According to a recent report in New Scientist, the government has taken a first step in the right direction by asking the Academy of Medical Sciences to look into the issue and make recommendations. “Without government support, no drug firm is going to come up with research money, because they view alternatives to alcohol as a leisure issue, not a matter of public health concern.” HANGOVER BUSTERS Mecamylamine skin patch Originally developed to help smokers, the mecamylamine skin patch dulls the addictive effects of drugs, as well as the cravings for them, by reducing the release of dopamine, the brain’s feelgood chemical. Trials at Duke University, in North Carolina, have so far shown that people who consumed more than 10 alcoholic drinks a week reduced their intake to six after wearing the patch for a month. It is still at the testing stage. SoberX This hangover patch was launched a few months ago and is already a huge hit in America. It contains vitamin C, artichoke and green tea. You put on the patch before you start drinking and the nutrients are slowly absorbed into the body. The makers claim that the patch protects the liver and enhances the body’s ability to process alcohol by neutralising its toxic ingredients. Effects are said to last for up to 24 hours after you have your last drink . RU-21 Invented for Soviet spies so they could stay alert even when under the influence, RU-21 is a natural dietary supplement containing glucose and vitamin C. Users take two tablets before they start drinking, then another two at the end of the night. Its makers claim that alcohol produces a toxin called acetaldehyde, which is what causes hangover symptoms. They claim that RU-21 tablets help to break down acetaldehyde more quickly, leaving drinkers headache-free the next morning . RU-21 Red Spirit Sciences, the company behind RU-21, is working on another miracle pill, RU-21 Red. The company claims that if you take this pill, you will need less alcohol to stay drunk, so will imbibe less. RU-21 Red contains grapevine extracts, which are intended to slow the oxidation of alcohol and keep the user drunk for longer. It has yet to receive approval for sale. Intox RX A herbal extract, this pill includes vitamin B1, kudzu and milk thistle. Several studies have shown that milk thistle can reduce alcohol cravings and hangover symptoms. Milk thistle is an antioxidant that supports the liver by preventing the depletion of glutathione, an amino acid-like compound that is essential in helping the body destroy toxins such as alcohol. Kudzu is used by Chinese healers to curb alcohol cravings.